Coombes, Janelle, and Duley (2005) conducted two experiments that explored the relationship between emotion and the speed and accuracy of a movement. In both experiments, participants were shown pleasant, unpleasant and neutral images and then asked to complete a square-tracing task. Participants’ reaction time, accuracy, heart rate, skin electrical conductivity and arousal levels were measured. Both experiments found accuracy to be lower after unpleasant stimuli were shown; however, a difference in reaction time was only seen during experiment two, where participants performed faster after unpleasant stimuli. Experiment two also found that the longer participants were exposed to unpleasant stimuli, the worse their accuracy became.
These findings indicate that negative affect (i.e. anger or fear) leads to decreased motor accuracy. I believe these findings have implications that are especially important for close contact sports such as wrestling or martial arts where accurate movements are key. In those sports, losing your level head results in a loss of focus and the commission of reckless mistakes that could cost you the match. While watching my brother wrestle throughout high school, I witnessed boys “hulk out” and try to throw reckless moves aimed at maximizing pain in their opponents only to wind up getting pinned, getting ejected from the match for illegal moves or seriously injuring their opponents.
These findings also have many practical implications related to sport psychology. They support the promotion of such mental skills as relaxation and self-talk to help performers control their arousal levels and change their state of mind in hopes of optimizing performance. They are also applicable to coaching education with specific respect to giving positive feedback. The relationship between negative stimuli and decreased accuracy shows that coaches who resort to negative, non-constructive feedback are quite literally setting their players up to lose control and fail. These are all interesting implications to keep in mind as we move forward with our training in this program.